Systemic Effects: Why Wikileaks has to pitch stories

wikileakswall6Everyone would have thought that publishing secret material like the embassy cables would in itself create so much attention, that no additional pitching would be necessary. In fact, Wikileaks learned that this is not the case. With pitching I mean the term used in PR, which means bringing a topic to an editor´s attention by calling him, writing an email or summarizing the story by writing an abstract.

Originally the Wikileaks founders thought, that all those thousands of people editing Wikipedia and all those bloggers commenting on critical issues, complaining that they never get access to an original source like established media outlets do, all these people would be delighted if they got original source material and they would spread it on the net in no time creating maximum impact.

But according to Julian Assange, this is not what he experienced. Simply publishing source material does not work. I think legal consequences do also play a role, but his conclusion is that non-professional editors only write about topics that display their values to their peers. I guess this is the reason why it is so hard to get coverage on facts that oppose the current opinion of many bloggers (and editors also), which I already experienced myself.

Assange concluded that Wikileaks had to give at least summaries of the source material or in case of more complicated stories, write an article. They actually liaised with editors to give them the material plus story on an exclusive or semi exclusive basis and to spread the embassy cable news worldwide, Wikileaks liaised with major editorial houses in the US and Europe.

A year ago many people watching the development of the internet as a news channel predicted that the internet would lead to maximum transparency. Well yes, there is much more transparency now, but the “currency” on the net (as everywhere else) is still attention, as Google puts it. The Wikipedia example shows that apart from all transparency on the net, news still follow the “old rules” in terms of how to create awareness, and that a lot of the impact (apart from the story) depends on the credibility of the publisher and the awareness he or she can create among the general public, which means inside AND outside the internet.

PS: I really like the Guardian Live Blog on Wikileaks. It´s very interesting to follow the events and comments on Wikileaks around the world in real time and in one place.

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